NSF Postdoctoral Fellows
John C. Walker
jcw at BIOSCI.MBP.MISSOURI.EDU
Wed Mar 23 09:20:16 EST 1994
The following is an anonymous message from a former NSF Plant Postdoctoral
fellow. I have agreed to post this message to protect the identity of the
author. The opinions expressed are not my own
I would also like to point out that I am not opposed to foreign
postdoctoral experiences, I did one and I thought it was one of the most
valuable experiences of my life. I intend to go overseas on sabbatical as
soon as possible. But should it be required? Is it productive to do a six
month shift overseas? Does it really make for a "world class scientist"?
or does world class science make a "world class scientist"?
Second, I have had a NSF Plant Biology postdoctoral fellow in the
laboratory (prior to the "foreign requirement") and it was truly valuable
opportunity for me and the fellow. I would like to see the program
continued in some form.
Third, I don't really want to be a moderator of this discussion but I think
it would be useful for other people to relay their experiences and
impressions to NSF.
>As a former NSF Plant Postdoc, I would like to make a few comments about
>my experience with the program. First, I agree that the "foreign
>requirement" has no justifiable relation to the purpose of the postdoc.
>There are other ways to work in 'foreign' labs, and anyone who feels that
>is important to their development should show enough initiative to explore
>those options themselves. I found a way to work in a European lab for a
>while, and it was worth it-- but I don't think it should be required.
>But more to the point, I have some negative comments about the NSF Plant
>Postdoc program at the time I experienced it. I hope these comments
>shape the way NSF designs future postdoc programs for plant biologists
>(whether under the umbrella of 'Environmental Biology' or whatever).
> First: There was no guarantee of support in the laboratory the
>postdoc joined. This is plant biology, folks, and we all know how
>underequipped and underfunded many of our labs are. So, when I visited
>the lab I planned to work in, they appeared to have the equipment and
>facilities to do the project I had described. What I didn't know until I
>got there and tried to do research, was that this lab hadn't gotten their
>grants renewed, and barely had the money to buy the reagents to do even
>the simplest experiments. At one point, I had to decide whether to use
>part of my institutional allowance to buy 3 months of health insurance (see
>below) or buy an antibody I needed. (I bought the antibody.) So, they
>welcomed me because I was "free" but they did not have to prove they had
>dedicated sufficient resources to support my research.
>I have chosen to do a second postdoc (and give up the $35,000 starter grant
>I was eligible for...) just to try and do this project right!
> Recommendation: The supporting laboratory has to demonstrate
>that they have set aside reasonable funds ($3000/yr) to buy supplies for
>the the postdoc's research.
> Second: Unfair access to benefits. I received an "institutional
>allowance" to use for travel, insurance, etc. Let's see-- first I had to
>let them take overhead from that allowance to "qualify" me to be allowed
>to buy insurance through the university's group policy. After they took
>out the overhead, there was not even enough for me to pay for a whole
>year's coverage each year. So, I had gaps in coverage, and kept my
>fingers crossed. (Of course I was not eligible to use student health
>services). This is because I was single. Other NSF postdocs with
>employed spouses got covered on their spouses' policies and had the
>entire institutional allowance to spend on travel, etc. Is this fair?
> Third: No raises. Frankly, it was insulting to be told that
>this was a 'prestigious' fellowship, but to have my salary frozen at the
>rate for the year it was awarded. Other fellows who received awards the
>next year made more money. Postdocs being paid off the PI's grant got
>raises as mandated by the state/institutional schedule. Again, is this
>In conclusion, I was not happy with the NSF Plant Biology Postdoc Program
>as I experienced it. I'm not sure the end of that program is such a
>loss. I hope that the new "Environmental" program treats its awardees
John C. Walker
Divison of Biological Sciences
308 Tucker Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
Phone: 314-882-3583 (Office)
EMAIL: jcw at biosci.mbp.missouri.edu
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